1 in 5 Americans experiences a diagnosable mental health issue each year. Nearly half the population will meet the criteria for a mental health issue at some point during their lifetime.
Mental health can be complex and nuanced. If you know someone who is struggling, you might feel confused or even panicked about how to help them. You may worry about saying or doing the wrong thing. These worries are normal, but they may perpetuate problematic stigmas.
But as a loved one, you can be an ally in learning how to support someone who is struggling with mental health. Let's get into the top tips you should know.
Start By Asking Direct Questions
Some people show obvious warning signs when they are struggling with their mental health. For example, you might notice an apparent decline in their personal hygiene or overall mood. They may outwardly talk about theri symptoms.
But others are far more discreet. They might be used to hiding their feelings or pretending that everything is okay. If you're that concerned that someone needs more support, it's imperative to ask direct, clarifying questions about their intentions.
These questions include:
Are you thinking about suicide?
How is your depression/anxiety/etc. today?
What are you struggling with right now?
How well are you functioning overall?
Are you drinking or using drugs more frequently?
These questions may seem unnerving, but you asking them models your willingness to engage in an open and honest conversation. After all, if someone senses that you feel anxious or disturbed by the situation, they might withdraw and avoid sharing their feelings with you.
Avoid Generic Cliches
When people open up about their mental health, they want to feel understood and validated. They don't want to be dismissed for being dramatic or irrational.
Avoid making generalizations or unhelpful statements like:
Try focusing on all the good things in your life!
It's not that bad. Other people have it much worse.
This is just a phase.
Focus on being happy.
Try not to be so selfish.
Any of those statements can come across as demeaning and condescending. Moreover, they disregard the true severity of mental health. Mental illness isn't a choice- it's a representation of a chemical imbalance. People can't turn it on or off. They can't decide to feel happy or sad.
Instead, it's important to be validating. You can validate your loved ones with compassionate, empathic statements like:
That sounds really hard.
Even though I've never experienced it myself, I can imagine how upset you feel.
Your feelings are always safe with me.
I am always here to listen to you.
You seem like you're going through a lot.
I know you're doing your best. I am proud of you.
We can get through this together.
Support Getting Treatment
As a loved one, it's important that you recognize your own limitations. You are not responsible for fixing this situation. You cannot control other people or their actions. Instead, you can provide warmth, unconditional positive regard, and healthy boundaries.
But if your loved one continues to struggle, you can support them in reaching out for help. Although mental illness may be complicated, it is treatable. Therapy, medication, and professional interventions can all help your loved one learn new ways to cope with their symptoms and live a more fulfilling life.
Subsequently, it might be beneficial for you to attend couples or family therapy with them. By recognizing the role you play in the dynamic, you can learn:
strategies for healthier communication.
more education about mental health and its impact on loved ones.
ways to acknowledge your needs.
boundaries that avoid enabling behavior.
Prioritize Your Own Needs, Too
Your loved one's mental health is important. But it can be the focus of your entire life. If you neglect your own well-being because you're taking care of someone else, you might be making things worse.
Of course, this mindset may feel easier said than done. After all, nobody wants to see their loved ones struggling.
Prioritize getting your own support. Consider getting individual therapy or attending a mental health support group. Reach out to your other friends and family. Make more time for self-care.
These actions aren't selfish- they help recharge or restore your energy. This makes you more attuned and attentive to your loved one when they actually need you!
Final Thoughts On How To Support Someone Who Is Struggling With Mental Health
It's not always easy to support someone who is struggling with mental health. Keep in mind that you don't need to do this on your own.
The Mental Health House cultivates community, autonomy, purpose, well-being, and life integration. We are here for you and your loved ones. Learn more about our unique approach and contact us today.